This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on June 25, 2017.
Romans 5 emphasizes the free gift of boundless grace through Jesus Christ available to any who place their trust in him. In just three verses (vss. 15-17) Paul mentions this “free gift” five times. Comparing Adam to Christ, we are reminded that the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift of grace that followed many trespasses brings justification. This discourse culminates with the promise, “but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” Left on its own, Romans 5 could be interpreted as a free pass to intentionally live in sin, so as not to diminish the full potential of grace in our lives and world. With that in mind, Paul follows his discourse on boundless grace in Romans 5, with a direct question in Romans: “Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?”
This question posed by Paul to the first-century church resounds in our churches today. While many pastors are exceedingly comfortable preaching a sermon on grace, few tackle the realities of sin on a consistent basis for fear of sounding too harsh, too judgmental, or too impractical. We are more comfortable inviting folks to “come as you are because God’s grace is immense,” than we are challenging folks “not to dare leave unchanged because God makes us a new creation.” While the church is still into sinning, we are not really into talking about sinning. In Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s famous description of cheap grace, he says we have become masters at, “the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” Bonhoeffer speaks into what Paul feared might happen. Because the grace of Jesus Christ is free and abounding, the people of Christ might be tempted to take it for granted. When the preacher introduces this text, it will first be necessary to remind the church that we do sin indeed, and that is indeed a big deal. Only then can delve into the relationship between sin and grace together.
This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on May 7, 2017.
The heart of every churchman will warm as he or she reads this paragraph that closes this remarkable chapter. It begins with the new generation being baptized in the Holy Spirit early in the morning. When the Spirit moves into their hearts, he energizes them in worship and witness. The church of Jesus Christ takes its place in history.
In response to the Spirit-empowered preaching of the Gospel by Peter, while being supported by the rest of the Apostles, the number in the church multiplied from 120 to 3120 in that one day. In the immediate days ahead Luke reports with descriptive words what life was like for these new believers. It is a remarkable beginning. Not one to be imitated, but a good description of what we should prayerfully expect in our churches. We should allow this passage to mold our expectations of the church where we serve. As we study this description of life in the church, we must always be mindful that these are people in whom God dwells by His Spirit. This is not a movement of men, but a movement of the Living Christ.
This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on August 14, 2016.
We live in an era in which we get a daily dose of hard news born in hatred, division and violence. Churches and religious leaders search for words, and communities long for action. Do we have a gospel big enough for this moment?
It is easy to preach the pleasant Jesus – Jesus who heals, loves, comforts, feeds and restores. The problem is that the gospel story is more than one of a pasteurized and homogenized pleasant Jesus. Some of Jesus’ words disquiet us. The temptation is to walk away from the difficult words. But, if one desires to proclaim an authentic picture of Jesus, then one must be prepared to hold in tension the good and encouraging words with the difficult ones.
This lectionary passage draws us into words of fire, stress and divided families – of shattered peace and brewing storms. These are difficult and unsettling words from Jesus. In Luke’s gospel account, one feels a growing intensity from the moment Jesus, Peter and John come down the Mount of Transfiguration (Luke 9:37-43), leading up to the moment in our passage. One finds Jesus offering words of judgement on the generation that stood before him and prophetic words of woe for cities, Pharisees and lawyers (Luke 9:4; 10:13-16; 11:29, 37-52). These strong indictments set the context for Jesus’ difficult words we encounter in the focal text.
This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on January 10, 2016.
When I was becoming acquainted with the lectionary for the first time, I was under the assumption that Epiphany was a season in the same way that Lent and Advent were. I think I had even heard about the theological purpose of Epiphany: it is the season when Christ is unveiled. Eventually my Episcopal friends would gently correct me, pointing out that it is instead the first instance of ordinary time. Still I don’t think that description, wherever I got it from, is half bad. Think about what comes to us in Epiphany in Year C: a baptism, a party, an epic sermon, Jesus’ dedication and the transfiguration. If Mary had put together a scrapbook, it would probably look like Epiphany.
‘Ordinary’ seems like an inept description. This timeline is filled with one extraordinary event after another. With this in mind, it might surprise you that I find the bookends of the season extremely difficult to preach. Every year the sun rises and falls on the season after Epiphany with Jesus’ baptism and his transfiguration. After about three years, I found I didn’t have anything left to say. So what do preachers do with Jesus’ baptism?